Why is the Norway attack significant? by Cenap Çakmak*

August 07, 2011, Sunday/ 12:16:00

Norway, one of the top countries for those pursuing peace, serenity and wealth as well as advanced social security benefits, has been hit by an assault claiming the lives of dozens of innocent people.

The country of quietness and silence is now in deep shock, asking why something like this happened there. Television as well as other media outlets have rushed to point to the usual suspect, Islamist terrorists. Not only European papers but some Turkish media representatives as well initially implied that this attack could have be carried out by Islamic fundamentalists. They, in support of their argument, recalled that al-Qaeda had repeatedly issued threats and warnings of such assaults because of official Norwegian support for the ongoing military campaigns in Afghanistan.

However, it turned out the perpetrator of the bombing and the assault was an ordinary, blond, blue-eyed Norwegian. In other words, the cliché argument or assumption that such attacks are the work of Islamist fundamentalists proved to be wrong in this case. It became evident later that the attacker was a far-right extremist, with anti-Islam sentiments and strong xenophobic views. Subsequent reports indicate that the incident was an isolated attempt, suggesting that the culprit was not linked to any clandestine group. This might be the case, but that does not matter at all; we have to imagine what would have happened if the suspect had been identified as a fundamentalist Islamist terrorist.

In such a case, there would not have been such reservations or cautious explanations; there would have been many candidates to blame for the attack, Islam being maybe the leading one, at least for extremists in Europe. In fact, the attack could have been carried out by someone linked to al-Qaeda. Or the attacker could have been a Muslim perpetrating the murders all by himself. In both cases, the safest thing to do would have been to illuminate the case without putting emphasis on his religious or national identity, but instead focusing on the nature and cause of fundamentalism or terrorism.

In other words, it does not matter whether a terrorist is Muslim, Christian or Jewish. His acts of terror may be motivated by religious reasons, but even in such cases this should not matter at all. One cannot possibly refer to Islamic terrorism just because terrorists argue that they do what they do for religious reasons. The same applies to a case where the perpetrator is a Christian or a Jew. A “Muslim” terrorist may justify his actions by reliance on Islamic precepts; but this does not necessarily give us the right to make references to Islamic terrorism.

In fact, this distinction has been made so far with respect to Christian fundamentalism. For instance, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the largest and one of the most brutal terrorist organizations in the world, whose leader has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for international crimes committed in northern Uganda, has been carrying out cruel attacks to fulfill the demands of the “Lord.” Joseph Kony, the leader of the organization, argued that he was not the one to blame as he was following orders spelled out in the Bible. What he said was obviously wrong because Christianity does not promote terrorism, brutality and violence. And neither does Islam.

Al-Qaeda and others are terrorist organizations by definition; they are not Islamic, even if they argue otherwise. Now this recent incident in Norway gives us all a chance to properly redefine terrorism, terrorists and their links to religion and nationality. What matters in terrorist incidents should be terrorism itself, rather than the religious or national identity of the perpetrator. Ideology, extremism and fundamentalism, rather than religion or nationality or race, should be those we fight against.

And we, Muslims, Christians and others, have to do it as voices of reason in order to avert a clash of civilizations. Europeans should now understand that terror is terror and it could be committed by anybody, regardless of his or her religious or national orientation. This most recent heinous incident is also a great test for the Muslims as well; they have to be emphatic and they should remain cautious before making overgeneralizations about the reign and rise of extremism or racism in Europe. The massacre in Norway does not give anyone the right to make such absurd and invalid comments, but sadly, commentators and analysts from the Muslim world, by referring to this incident, rushed to allege that racism and extremism is an inherent problem in Europe.

This is not a good performance on this test; reminding Europeans of the fact that terrorism could be perpetrated by anyone is fine; but arguing that this recent incident is a manifestation of the racist or extremist sentiments on the continent is obviously an exaggeration that will not help at all. But Europeans, too, must understand that this is an unstoppable reaction because it has always been the Muslims who were to blame for terrorism. The Norway attack, at least for once, showed that this may not be the case all the time.


*Dr. Cenap Çakmak is head of the department of international relations at Eskişehir Osmangazi University.